The Moral Economy of Electoralism and the Rise of Populism in the Philippines and Thailand

Research output: Journal Publications and ReviewsRGC 21 - Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-269
Journal / PublicationJournal of Developing Societies
Issue number3
Online published24 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016


In the Philippines and Thailand, two radically different “tales of democracy” are told: an elitist national narrative critiquing electoral “corruption” epitomized by vote buying and a local interpretation of elections in which politicians are judged according to the extent to which they benefit voters’ community and affirm poor people’s self-worth. The disadvantaged population’s community-based, mutualist voting behavior can be understood as a “moral economy of electoralism.” With the rise of populism under Joseph E. Estrada in the Philippines and Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand, this electoral moral economy, previously hidden at the local level, appeared “center stage” in both countries, directly challenging elites. Under the guise of corruption charges, both Estrada in the Philippines and Thaksin in Thailand were overthrown despite continued strong support from less well-off voters. With the relative success of an elite “reformist” president in the Philippines, Benigno S. Aquino III, the populist “threat” has receded in the Philippines (although a neo-authoritarian challenge looms). But Thaksin’s electoral invulnerability led elites to back military rule aiming to postpone elections until their impact has been enervated through constitutional “reforms,” showing how strong the now nationalized moral economy of electoralism has become in Thailand.

Research Area(s)

  • Electoralism, Moral Economy, Philippines, Populism, Thailand